New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Thursday that it would monitor the probe into alleged corruption in the allotment of 2G spectrum and licences by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which plans to start making arrests in the case as early as next week.
The court laid out a road map on how the probe should be conducted and said the investigation will have to consider “alleged irregularities committed in the grant of licences from 2001 to 2006-2007” as well as 2008, when the licences were issued under then telecom minister A. Raja.
Alleged irregularities in the allocation of 122 licences for second generation (2G) spectrum are being investigated by CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which probes violations of foreign exchange rules. CBI registered a first information report (FIR) in October 2009 against “unnamed officials” in the department of telecommunications (DoT), private companies and individuals on charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy, but is yet to make any arrests.
“The agency (CBI) will start making arrests from next week,” an official close to the investigations said on condition of anonymity.
“At some point we will question Raja,” said a second official, who also did not want to be identified.
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The Supreme Court asked for a status report to be filed by the investigating agencies on 10 February, 2011, the date on which it will next hear the matter.
A bench comprising justices G.S. Singhvi and Ashok Kumar Ganguly emphasized the need for CBI to stay independent in carrying out the investigation.
It did not appoint a special investigative team to monitor the case since the government has agreed to a court-monitored investigation.
CBI officials said they found incriminating documents showing “money trails” during searches carried out on 8 and 15 December.
Residences and offices of Raja, his former personal secretary R.K. Chandolia, former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behuria, former telecom commission member K.Sridhar and DoT’s former deputy director general of access service wing, A.K. Srivastava, were searched.
CBI also raided Raja’s close aide Sadiqui Batcha, who is managing director of Chennai-based Greenhouse Exports.CBI questioned all the officials and Batcha.
They were confronted with documents and evidence seized from their houses.
Official agencies have been directed to probe the alleged violations of licence terms and conditions as laid out in reports by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and why the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and DoT did not take action.
They have been asked to investigate the alleged grant of licenses to ineligible companies and whether DoT officials were signatories to bank loans issued to telecom companies against their licences and at whose behest. They also have to investigate the alleged non-compliance with their network rollout obligations by some companies that were given licences.
The court’s order says that prima facie the evidence as laid out in the reports of CVC and CAG was convincing enough to warrant a through investigation. CBI and ED have been directed to investigate on the basis of all CVC and CAG reports and an analysis of the phone taps of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia.
The bench noted that the Delhi high court, which had dismissed the same public interest litigation that the apex court is hearing now, had committed a “serious error” as the petitioners had demonstrated bona fide intent in filing and arguing the case.
On Wednesday, CBI carried out raids at 34 places in Delhi and Tamil Nadu based on leads from the first round of raids.
Among those raided were Radia, former chairman of Trai Pradip Baijal, a Chennai-based non-governmental organization with which K. Kanimozhi, an MP from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), is linked, 12 companies that are closely linked to Raja and two alleged hawala dealers in New Delhi.
Raja resigned from the cabinet on 14 November in the wake of the CAG report that the rates at which 2G spectrum was allotted resulted in a notional loss of Rs 1.76 trillion to the exchequer.
Raja has maintained that he was ready for questioning by CBI any time, according to news reports.
CBI has committed to the court that it would try and complete the probe by 31 March, 2011.